Arizona border fence plan stalled after 3 years

Arizona border fence plan stalled after 3 years

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By BOB CHRISTIE
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- A plan by Republican Arizona lawmakers to build a mile of fencing along the border with Mexico using private money has stalled nearly three years after it was sanctioned by the Legislature.

Private donations expected to fund the project dried up after only a fraction of the funding was in hand, leaving the project far short of its lofty goals.

Lawmakers on a border security committee that met Wednesday acknowledged the state has received just $264,000 for the project, well short of the $2.8 million needed to build the first mile of fencing.

The plan championed by Rep. Steve Smith originally called for collecting as much as $50 million to build a 15-foot fence at busy, yet-to-be-determined border-crossing points then erecting fences along miles of the state's 375-mile border that have no federal fences.

The effort began during the height of Arizona's battle against illegal immigration, before a backlash that left former state Senate President Russell Pearce out of a job after a recall and the GOP-led Legislature with no more appetite for measures targeting immigration.

The Arizona Legislature's border security advisory committee, which includes lawmakers, sheriff's and state department heads, took no action Wednesday on a new spending plan. It also put off until next month a discussion on how to allocate what money it has.

Donations dried up less than six months after the state launched a website in 2011 to collect money for the project. In December of that year, the state had more than $250,000, but the tally remained at just over $264,000 on Wednesday.

Smith, R-Maricopa, said he still hopes to use the cash as seed money for some type of enhanced border security - a fence or some other measure he declined to detail.

"I think all options are on the table," Smith said. "I think people would be really surprised what we can do with a little bit of funds."

The committee co-chair, Rep. David Stevens, said Smith is considering asking the committee to distribute money to sheriffs with jurisdictions along the border.

"He wants to put it to use on the border, because it's not enough to build a fence," Stevens said Tuesday evening. Smith would not confirm that on Wednesday.

The Legislature created the committee in 2011 and tasked it with making recommendations to the governor about how to handle the border. The fence project was one of its key goals.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press modified.

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